What Is Postural Kyphosis?
Postural kyphosis is another term that means hunched back. It means there is an excess curvature in the upper back. Kyphosis is curvature of the spine that causes the top of the back to appear more rounded than normal.
Sometimes kyphosis does not cause any symptoms other than the back appearing abnormally curved or hunched. However, in some cases, the condition causes back pain and stiffness, tenderness of the spine and tiredness.
If you have severe tension in one part of your body, that tightness will probably effect the rest of your body, because the body is a kinetic chain. Everything is interrelated. Nothing works alone, meaning that muscle imbalances lead other areas to compensate.
So in the case of an upper back kyphosis, the chest, for example, is tense and tight and the upper back is tense and lengthened. They are both weak because they lack flexibility.
Flexibility is the capacity for a muscle to change shape. A chronically short or chronically long muscle is weak; it's not working optimally.
I have found that strengthening is not effective at all. I have been working with a kinesiologist who specializes in posture. She told me that efforts to correct posture by stretching and strengthening have been a total failure.
I have corrected my upper back kyphosis and anterior pelvic tilt successfully with her help only with stretching and mobilization exercises.
The problem is that with bad posture comes a difference in muscle activation. The nervous system is excessively sensitive to certain muscles and excessively insensitive to others. Short and tight muscles are overly recruited and you are very conscious of these muscles.
Squeezing your pectorals is much easier then squeezing your back muscles. The mind-body connection is weaker there. Notice the attention we give to our pectorals and abdominals compared to our back muscles.
Some will say that this is because we want to look good and we care more about what's in the front of the body, but I think it has also to do with the fact that it is way easier to work the front muscles and thus is more rewarding at the gym. People don't like to struggle.
My kinesiologist explained to me that you could end up thinking that the back needs strengthening to pull your shoulders and thoracic spine backwards, but actually the weakness of the back is related to a lack of mind-body connection. The central nervous system has, in a sense, forgotten about these back muscles. That's why it's so hard to squeeze them using sheer willpower. The central nervous system cannot be effective in a body with chronic tensions, so the objective here is to stretch everything.
The best way to strengthen a muscle is by stretching its opposite. If you stretch the pectorals, you will have better activation of your back muscles for example.
Trigger points are really sensitive points, or spots of chronic tension, in a muscle. You know you've found a trigger point when the pain is really sharp and travels to another place in the body.
For example, if you press on the neck and the pain travels all the way to the shoulder, that is a sign that you are dealing with chronic tension and you should give it special attention. What you have to do is massage it for a minimum of two minutes with a tennis or lacrosse ball. Do this before every stretch!
The exercises I have used to fix this problem are the following:
- Pectoral stretch
- Upper back stretch
- Shoulder stretch
- Lats stretch
- Levator and upper traps stretch
- Whole upper body stretch
Interesting Discussion On Posture And The Nervous System
1. Pectoral Stretch
A tight chest pulls your shoulders forward thus making you have a rounded upper back. You end up with narrow pectorals, rounded shoulders and probably forward head posture. Follow these steps:
- Starting Position
- Push with hand and make sure your opposite shoulder touches the ground
2. Upper Back Stretch
With a kyphosis the back muscles are in chronic tension. The muscles in the upper back are weakened and lenghened. The back muscles don't have the strength to pull the thoracic spine backwards.
- Starting position
- Put yourself as far back as possible without falling backwards
- Slump backwards and pull face towards knees
- Pull your back away to stretch it even further
3. Shoulder Stretch
There is a massive amount of tightness in the shoulders. It's maybe one of the hardest parts to stretch along with the neck in my own experience. The rounding of the shoulders makes the rear deltoids long, weak and tight. The front deltoids become short, weak and tight. We have to stretch all of that.
- Starting Position
- Turn your hand
- Pull Forward
- Exercise 2: Start Position
- Pull forward with other arm
4. Lat Stretch
This is the most effective lat stretch I have found. The most simple as well. Lat tightness will contribute to rounded shoulders and thus kyphosis. When your shoulders are continually forward this puts the lats in a shortened state which exacerbates the rounding of the shoulders since it will pull them down and forward even further.
- Use a rubber band to extend your arm and use your hips to twist your body.
5. Levator and Upper Traps Stretch
In a kyphosis position in order for the head to maintain upright the upper traps and levator muscles have to become overactive and compensate for the lenghened and inhibited muscles of the rest of the back like the rhomboids and lower trapezius. Both an overactive and inhibited muscle or you could say a chronically tight and a chronically lenghened muscle are weak and are tense.
6. Whole Upper Body Stretch
This will stretch the whole upper body. If anything is tight you will know by doing this stretch. It's also a mobilization exercise of the thoracic spine. I found it great especially for shoulder tension and in the chest.
- Starting Position
- Lower your butt and rib cage to the ground
If a stretch doesn't work for you or if you can't get into position comfortably then change exercise because it could mean that you are just not ready for it and you need to stretch another part of your body first.
You have to be smart and not injure yourself. If a specific muscle won't losen up then there is a reason. The body knows better than you what is possible at the moment.
Change exercise and then you can come back to the previous one. The order that I put forth here is the order that worked for me. Try it but change it if it doesn't work for you.
Always massage before stretching for optimal results and find those trigger points.
Have You Suffered From A Hunched Back?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Gurdev on October 28, 2018:
Brother i have been suffering from bad posture.. i used to crack my neck.. but now i don't.. but i still feel cracking in my neck on its own.. in fact i feel cracking in shoulder and knee too.. i really need your help brother.. i have been trying stretching and strengthening from past month.. there is some improvement in my posture but not in the cracking.. i really need your help brothers.. please help .. i hope you will read it
ElenaP on March 02, 2018:
Thanks for clearly explaining and demonstrating how to stretch for a hunched back. I found your article very interesting and helpful. I'll definitely try it. In my particular case, I have tightness in my shoulders and lower neck area. So, I let you know if I get results.
Claude Borel (author) from Santiago de Chile on June 20, 2015:
Robert Morgan from Hutchinson Island, FL - Myrtle Beach, SC - Gilbert AZ on June 19, 2015:
Good article... Blessings
Claude Borel (author) from Santiago de Chile on June 03, 2015:
Your welcome! I'm happy you think so. Keep me updated on your progress
Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on June 01, 2015:
This is interesting and thanks for the pictures. They make the exercises easy to follow.